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Two years after a fraudulent scheme nearly dashed their homeownership dreams, 20 immigrant families in Brooklyn celebrate a happy ending

Innovative non-profit/government partnership prevents evictions, ensures long-term housing stability

Asian Americans for Equality (AAFE), in partnership with New York State Attorney General Letitia James, New York Homes and Community Renewal (HCR) and the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), announced today the stabilization of a residential building in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, in the aftermath of a large-scale fraudulent scheme perpetrated against 20 immigrant families. As a result, the property is no longer at risk of foreclosure, the threat of eviction has been averted and the residents are on their way to becoming homeowners. 

The families collectively paid the developer of the property, Xi Hui Steven Wu, more than $5 million, purportedly to purchase condominiums at 345 Ovington. Since there was no approved offering plan from the State of New York, Wu had no legal authority to sell the residential units. His lender initiated foreclosure proceedings. Wu fled the country, and the families were on the verge of eviction. AAFE, working with city and state elected officials and agencies, recently purchased the building and will convert the property into an affordable cooperative managed by residents. 

“Two years ago, it appeared a miracle would be required to keep these families in their homes,” said AAFE Executive Director Thomas Yu. “So many dedicated partners came together to resolve a myriad of complex legal and financial issues, helping AAFE implement an innovative plan to turn a fiasco for these families into a remarkable success story. We are so happy for the residents who are now well on their way to realizing the American dream of homeownership.” 

New York State Homes and Community Renewal, New York State Attorney General James, the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development, as well as New York City Council member Justin Brannan and New York State Senator Iwen Chu played critical roles – not only in financing the stabilization of 345 Ovington Avenue, but in helping AAFE shape the successful strategy to rescue the building from bankruptcy and the auction block. Enterprise Community Partners is originating the loan through the New York Acquisition Fund, which is managed by Forsyth Street Advisors. 

“Today, we take the first steps toward real justice for the hard working immigrant families living at 345 Ovington Avenue,” said New York Attorney General Letitia James. “These families were taken advantage of and sold a lie by someone they trusted, and now we are making sure they get to stay in the homes they were promised and paid for. My office sued Steven Wu for this fraud, and I am grateful to Asian Americans for Equality for their partnership in holding him accountable and ensuring these families could stay in their homes. My office will continue to fight to ensure justice is served and recover the life savings that were stolen from these hardworking families.”

HCR Commissioner RuthAnne Visnauskas said, “We’re proud to have worked alongside our community and government partners to bring a positive result to what could have been a tragedy for the 20 immigrant families who were nearly defrauded out of their homes. This case demonstrates how we are always willing to find new and innovative approaches to ensure we can assist New Yorkers in need.”  

“We were devastated and felt helpless and overwhelmed when we learned what happened,” said Kris Chan, who was a teenager when she moved into 345 Ovington Avenue with her family. “I am so grateful to AAFE and everyone else who worked so hard toward the goal of saving our homes. All my mother wanted when she found this apartment was a safe home in a good neighborhood. We finally have some peace of mind.” 

“The condo was meant for my parents’ retirement,” explained Rei Tan.  “We wanted them to be close by here in Bay Ridge. For so long, it felt like a hopeless situation with nowhere to turn for help. I’m thankful to AAFE for what they have done for my family and the other residents in the building. And I’m relieved that my Mom is now secure in her own home.” 

Senator Iwen Chu said, “The acquisition and transformation of 345 Ovington Avenue is a significant victory for the residents and our entire community! The residents have endured tremendous hardships fighting for their rights and the homes they poured their hearts and savings into. Despite these challenges, they remained united and resilient. Thanks to AAFE, Attorney General James, Council member Brannan, Senator Gounardes, my office and all the city agencies’ collective efforts, today, they can finally enjoy a safe home. I have been committed to helping the residents from the state level, and I am proud to contribute $400,000 towards AAFE’s transformative work. New York should be a place where everyone has the opportunity to thrive, and today, we are one step closer to achieving that goal.”

“The hardworking families living at 345 Ovington Avenue were faced with losing their homes and their life savings through no fault of their own after being conned by an unscrupulous developer,” said City Council member Justin Brannan. “This was not something I was going to allow to happen on my watch in Bay Ridge. With our partners at AAFE, I’m proud to have fought to keep these families, many of them new Americans seeking to establish themselves and contribute to our community, in their homes. This was a tremendous outcome thanks to a fantastic coalition of partners in government.”

“Through their efforts, Asian Americans for Equality has taken what could have been a story of economic exploitation and turned it into a story of empowerment,” said Baaba Halm, Vice President and Market Leader, Enterprise Community Partners. “Enterprise is proud to have played a part in helping AAFE acquire this property through our Enterprise Community Loan Fund. The homeowner opportunities that have been preserved serves as a model of government, creative capital and strong nonprofit partners coming together to find housing solutions that achieve upward mobility for those we serve.”

“Thanks to the dedicated work of AAFE, 20 immigrant families in Brooklyn can stay in the homes they have committed so much of their time and money to,” said U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer. “Through no fault of their own, these innocent families were in serious danger of losing their homes. I am so thrilled these families have the security of stable housing and the opportunity to pursue homeownership—an opportunity that would have been lost without the intervention of so many incredible partners including Councilman Brannan, Senator Chu, DHCR, HPD and AAFE.”

“The fraudulent scheme in Bay Ridge is indicative of the broken housing system in this country today,” said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. “We are seeing the most vulnerable in our communities continue to be taken advantage of and priced out of their homes. I am grateful to AAFE for working with our government partners to ensure these families remained housed. I will never stop fighting in Congress to build pathways to homeownership and to make housing more accessible.”

The families cobbled together their life savings, handing over down payments of up to $500,000. In many cases, the developer also collected monthly “mortgage” payments and building fees. When the property went into foreclosure, residents were shocked to learn that they were, in fact, not condominium owners. Wu never provided deeds to the purchasers. To prevent immediate foreclosure, several residents filed legal documents, forcing the property into bankruptcy. Meanwhile, Attorney General James filed a lawsuit against Wu for selling non-existent condos and illegally collecting millions of dollars from the families. The lawsuit is ongoing. 

AAFE was contacted by HCR, the Attorney General’s Office and elected officials in late 2022. In collaboration with the residents’ attorney, Ed Cuccia, and the court trustee, AAFE staff began meeting with the families. Following months of discussions and painstaking negotiations, a plan was devised to first purchase the mortgage note to prevent foreclosure and then start the lengthy process of converting 345 Ovington Avenue to a limited equity cooperative. 

The total project costs are expected to exceed $15 million, including acquisition of the property and necessary renovations throughout the 25-unit building. Early on, HCR committed to to providing financial subsidy to the development as part of its Affordable Homeownership Opportunity Program, and HPD also came forward with substantial funding. City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams and Council member Brannan contributed $1.5 million in the FY24 Capital Budget. In the past two years, Senator Chu added $400,000 in capital funding ($200,000 in FY24, $200,000 in FY25). 

Since residents moved into the building nearly a decade ago, they have been responsible for maintenance and upkeep. AAFE has now taken responsibility for property management. In the weeks ahead, AAFE will be working to assess all of the building’s capital needs and develop a construction plan. Once construction financing is in place, anticipated next year, renovations are expected to take 6-9 months. Meanwhile, planning will accelerate to submit an offering plan, in collaboration with the Attorney General’s Office. Tenants will be participating in training to become part of a resident-led Housing Fund Development Corporation (HDFC). Five apartments will eventually be made available through a city lottery as middle-income cooperatives. 

AAFE has a long history of developing homeownership opportunities. In 2017, the organization completed New York City’s first project through the Affordable Neighborhood Cooperative Program (ANCP) at 244 Elizabeth St. in Manhattan, creating 19 affordable co-op apartments. AAFE also transformed three buildings in the East Village through the ANCP program, creating 44 additional homeownership opportunities for both existing and future residents, and construction is underway on another affordable co-op project in Chelsea, which will produce 26 more units. In the early 2000s, AAFE transformed 47 dilapidated 1-4 family homes, creating affordable homeownership opportunities for immigrant families and helping revitalize neighborhoods throughout Queens. AAFE Community Development Fund has been providing homeownership education and financing since 1999. 

Asian Americans for Equality, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, advances racial, social and economic justice for Asian Americans and other systemically disadvantaged communities. AAFE is a comprehensive community development organization that builds and manages affordable housing in Manhattan and Queens, provides an array of community services and offers low-interest loans and training to immigrant small business owners. AAFE has preserved/created more than 1,200 affordable apartments in the past three decades. 

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